Waco arts and cultural supporters have long touted the value of their organizations and their impact on Waco, and now, thanks to a national arts survey, there’s a dollar figure attached: $63,690,791 annually to the local economy.

The figure comes from Americans for the Arts’ national Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 survey conducted last year with 341 participating organizations, and the breakout of Waco data from the survey surprised even some ardent local arts advocates.

“That is amazing,” Creative Waco executive director Fiona Bond said.

Bond said the $63.7 million impact is about twice what was expected for a community of Waco’s size. She shared survey results with members of Waco’s Arts Alliance and the Museum Association of Waco on Tuesday. Creative Waco was the sponsoring partner for the Waco study.

The survey was the first by Americans for the Arts that Waco arts and cultural organizations have participated in, with 29 of 34 eligible groups taking part and 1,164 surveys returned by people attending various Waco arts events or visiting museums in 2016. Participating organizations also submitted information on their 2015 budgets to allow comparison of fiscal years.

Based on the data, the organization found that, of the $63.7 million spent on the arts in the local economy, $31.4 million came from organizations and $32.3 million came from audiences.

That translated into the equivalent of 2,184 full-time jobs and some $7.4 million in state and local taxes.

Nationally, the survey found the nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in America had an economic impact of $166.3 billion.

The survey also looked at the average amount of money spent by people attending Waco concerts, festivals, plays and other arts events, both by local and out-of-town visitors. Attendees spent an average of $24.74 per event on food, souvenirs, transportation and lodging. Ticket prices were not included in that figure, nor was admission to for-profit businesses such as movie theaters or individual performances.

While food and drink were the largest expenditures for arts attendees outside of overnight lodging, the amount spent by both local and nonresident attendees was below national averages. Waco residents at arts-related events spent an average of $5.78, compared to a national average of $10.53, and nonresidents spent an average of $11.69 locally, compared to a $15.90 national average.

Bond said the lower Waco average might be because of a lower cost of living compared to larger cities and a lack of restaurants or food vendors near some arts and cultural sites.

Roughly 20 percent of out-of-town attendees spent the night in Waco, with lodging boosting that group’s event-related spending to an average of $145.96. Bond told her audience of arts and museum leaders that one challenge would be to increase the number of visitors spending the night in Waco.

Because the survey used data from 2015 arts budgets, it doesn’t reflect the full impact of the “Magnolia effect,” including the 20,000 to 30,000 visitors drawn weekly to the Magnolia Market at the Silos, Bond said.

Carla Pendergraft, marketing director for the Waco Convention Center, told the arts and museum officials that attendance at Waco museums and cultural sites rose to about 800,000 in 2015 after years of averaging between 500,000 and 600,000 visitors. Last year, that number jumped to 1.9 million, boosted by increasing traffic to the Silos. Attendance this spring puts the city on track for a record 2.6 million visitors, she said.

Some of those out-of-town visitors also were stopping at Waco cultural venues and tourist attractions.

Pendergraft attributed 1.5 million of the projected 2.6 million Waco visitors to Magnolia Market, noting that the remainder still showed continued growth over the last few years.

With Magnolia traffic continuing to increase, Waco museums and arts organizations could expect even more visitors this year. Pendergraft compared her 2017 attendance projections built from spring numbers to 2015 attendance figures, the ones used in the survey, and found some impressive increases over the two-year period: 63 percent for the Cameron Park Zoo, 46 percent for the Waco Civic Theatre, 113 percent for the Dr Pepper Museum, 134 percent for Art Center of Waco and a whopping 245 percent for the Waco Mammoth National Monument.

“We’re in the middle of a phenomenon,” Pendergraft said. “It’s a wonderful time.”

Eight of Waco’s largest museums and the Cameron Park Zoo had compiled an economic impact list of their own from last year, said Charlie Walter, executive director of the Mayborn Museum and president of the Museum Association of Waco.

That informal survey found a collective budget of $12 million, 125 full-time and 89 part-time staff, and a total attendance of 731,666 visitors, nearly three times McLennan County’s population, with about 60 percent of those visitors coming from out-of-town.

“We’re doing a lot to bring visitors to this county,” Walter said. “The museum community is definitely a strong, vibrant part of this community.”

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor

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